As the long college basketball offseason continues to drag on, fans of the elite programs in the nation dream of future national championships and recruiting coups. Thanks to Thad Matta’s impressive efforts over the course of the past nine seasons, Ohio State supporters can count their team among the country’s best.
So as Buckeye Nation dreams of future titles and basketball success, what is the best case scenario for the team in the upcoming 2013-14 season? And while we are at it, what about the worst case scenario?
Remember, this is the best case scenario and the worst case scenario (barring injuries of course, which are always the absolute worst case scenarios) for the Scarlet and Gray. These are not predictions about what will happen, just situations that could feasibly arise during the season.
In the interest of saving the best for last, let’s start with the worst.
A disappointing season from Ohio State would start from an individual player standpoint. In this hypothetical, Amir Williams shows absolutely zero improvement and is still a liability on the floor. His rebounding is nonexistent and he gets bullied around by the bigger guys in the Big Ten.
Elsewhere, Aaron Craft doesn’t develop an outside shot, and every opponent defends him like Wisconsin and Wichita State did in 2012-13 by sagging off and preventing penetration. Fellow point guard Shannon Scott still looks lost when taking a jump shot and his offense continues to lack behind his defense.
Lenzelle Smith has been labeled as inconsistent in the past because he mixes in a 20-point game every now and then, but those blips of brilliance disappear. Sam Thompson’s offensive game and perimeter shot resorts back to the first year-and-a-half on campus version and not what it was during the stretch run last season, and his scoring tails off.
What is most condemning for the Buckeyes on a micro level in this scenario is LaQuinton Ross does not make the leap forward that so many expect him to and is unable to be the focal point of an offense for an entire season. Ohio State fans find out that he benefited from Deshaun Thomas drawing the attention of the defense in March much more than they thought, and the half-court offense is a mess without a true scoring threat.
Furthermore, the freshmen struggle in the early non-conference portion of the schedule and as a result don’t find themselves consistently in the rotation when conference play heats up.
If all of these worst case scenarios happen for the individual players, it won’t be a pretty season in Columbus. Still, there is too much talent on this team to envision anything less than a middle of the road Big Ten finish (think fifth or sixth place in a league that will still be deep, just not quite as loaded as last year).
These types of performances would result in painful struggles against the elite squads in the league (Michigan State, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and even someone like Iowa or Illinois) and a seed somewhere in the No. 7 through 9 range in the NCAA tournament. The cherry on top is a first round exit to a scrappy mid-major squad (as long as we are dealing with worst case scenarios, let’s make it in-state Dayton).
The good news for Buckeye fans is the chances of the season turning that sour are slim. The best case scenario isn’t particularly likely either, but it is certainly more comforting than the alternative.
Clearly, if we are talking best case scenarios for individual players it will be the opposite of the worst case situations. That would mean Williams makes the leap so many fans have been waiting on since he came to Columbus as a McDonald’s All-American. It would also mean Thompson continues to be a defensive force and develops a more aggressive approach on offense.
Ross’ performance during the NCAA tournament was actually a glimpse of superstardom to come and not merely a small sample size outlier. He leads the team in scoring and earns a spot on the All-American team.
Kameron Williams gives Thad Matta the three-point threat he has been missing since Jon Diebler, and Marc Loving slides in seamlessly to Deshaun Thomas’ departed role in the center-less look Ohio State often utilizes.
Aaron Craft wins a long overdue national defensive player of the year award and continues to be the best floor general and overall leader in the country. He also becomes more of an offensive option with a passable jump shot (it is never going to be great) and deceptive quickness off the dribble (a la what he was for most of March 2013).
With all these pieces coming together, Ohio State wins a Big Ten championship and continues its absolute dominance of the conference tournament. NBA scouts drool over Ross by March and are even willing to give Craft a look as a defensive stalwart in the second round.
The Buckeyes use their depth and versatility (Matta is consistently going eight-deep in this scenario, and everyone’s legs are relatively fresh for March) to return to the Final Four for the second time in three years. But this time, the Scarlet and Gray jump out to an early lead and hold onto it, and the final image of the 2013-14 season is Craft cutting down the nets in Cowboys Stadium.
Oh and as great as a national title would be, a best case scenario season would obviously include three victories over Michigan (with one coming at the Big Ten tournament). The best case scenarios for Buckeye Nation always include victories over the Wolverines (considering Thad Matta’s absolute domination of his maize and blue clad rivals throughout his career, this isn’t that much of a stretch).
As with most things in life, the truth for the 2013-14 Ohio State basketball season probably lies somewhere in the middle. There is a ton of talent on this team, and it isn’t much of a stretch to think it could be playing in the Final Four if the pieces come together, but a national title may be a bit ambitious at this point.
But that’s why they play the games.
Follow and interact with Ohio State basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.